Vox Pop: Politicians and Analysts Weigh in on Upcoming By-Elections

By San Yamin Aung 23 March 2017


RANGOON — The Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) won Burma’s 2015 general election in a landslide victory, earning enough parliamentary seats to form the government. But one year on, critics have highlighted some of the NLD administration’s unpopular policies, which could cost the party votes in the April 1 by-elections.

The NLD-dominated Parliament’s recent decision to name a Mon State Bridge after Burma’s late independence hero Gen Aung San, the father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was met by a protest of thousands of ethnic Mon over the weekend. The government’s notice to cut the Burmese New Year holiday from 10 to five days has also been unwelcomed by many nationwide.

The upcoming by-elections’ results could serve as a test for the NLD government in determining whether they still hold widespread public support. Burma’s former ruling party chairman, U Than Htay of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has campaigned widely, as have at least 12 ethnic parties, as they contest for the vacant seats next month.

The Irrawaddy spoke with politicians and political analysts about their views on the upcoming vote.

U Sai Leik

Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) spokesperson

In Shan State, I think only if the NLD struggles, will they gain public support. The NLD’s work on the peace process up until this point has not been satisfactory and local people in Shan State have long been victims of civil war. So they might be more likely to vote for local ethnic parties.

We can’t predict if the NLD will sweep all of the seats in the coming by-elections, as the USDP is also all-in to be a strong opposition party.

The main thing is that the NLD government needs to amend the Constitution, in order to establish a democratic federal Union, as they said they would do in their election manifesto. Also it needs to work in an effective way for the peace process.

Mi Kun Chan Non

Voter in Chaungzon Township, Mon State and vice chairwoman of the Mon Women’s Organization

The NLD is not likely to win, because the government’s capacity has been criticized and also recent cases have proved that the government doesn’t care about the public’s opinion and fulfilling their wishes. I think local people have started thinking that only the local ethnic parties can fulfill their wishes. So the ethnic parties are likely to win in the election.

[The NLD government] needs to keep their promises that they made [before the election]. They said they would amend the Constitution, build national reconciliation, and establish a federal Union. They have a lot to do.

U Ye Tun

Former lawmaker

My guess is that in Mon, Shan and Arakan states, the ethnic parties will win. The latest controversial case of naming the Mon State Bridge after Gen Aung San upset the ethnic minority people.

I don’t think the USDP is likely to win, either, as their [degree of] responsibility for the country’s impoverishment and corruption is not yet clear.

Still, the NLD could win in many constituencies, as it has only been one year since they took power and most of their policies have not yet been implemented. Also, the cabinet members are not yet stricken by scandals involving corruption.

Dr. Yan Myo Thein

Political Analyst

The NLD has the potential to win in most constituencies—more than 10—in the by-elections. But in Shan State, the SNLD will win the most. I think the NLD ruling party, the ethnic parties and the USDP will fiercely compete in each constituency in Mon, Shan and Arakan states.

Ko Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint

Election Observer (Executive Director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections)

The by-election is important for the ethnic parties. They can reconnect with the voters, publicize their policies and warm-up for the next general election. Mainly, it will give an answer to parties as to whether they really have as much public support in these respective constituencies as they expected to have. And they could re-evaluate their parties’ strategies for winning the 2020 general election, based on the [by-]election results.